Exploring Tarot and Runes: 4 – Ansuz

Ansuz [pronounced Ahn-sooz] is the rune of Odin and holds a variety of meanings associated with the characteristics and adventures of the All Father, so you will be seeing a few more tarot cards than usual for this instalment!

ansuz upright

At the beginning of the world, Odin and his two brothers animated driftwood into the first two human beings, Ask and Embla (generally understood to be the woods from the trees Ash and Elm). Each God imparted his essence into the pieces of wood, with Hoener imparting thought, Lodurr imparting physical form and Odin the breath of life and spirit. [There is very little further attestation to these brothers of Odin and there is no evidence of their worship in the ancient world, consequently many people today believe that they represent three aspects of Odin rather than individual personifications of deity.]

Odin’s name has a few meanings, The Spirit, The Poetry and The Frenzy, and in a simplified form, he can be understood to represent the seeking principle of all humanity: the parts of us that burn for life, that yearn for wisdom and knowledge, that desire so strongly to know who and what we are and what it all means – life, the universe and everything (to borrow a phrase from one of my favourite books, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).

Odin is a god of wisdom, poetry, and breath and is concerned with our ability to access higher states of consciousness and ecstasy – the part of us that seeks the expansive and eternal universe/divine and receives otherworldly inspiration and gifts, such as prophecy. He is the very essence of human spirit and breath, that which brings us alive beyond an animated and functioning physical form.


The rune Ansuz is generally translated as God or Mouth – the very part of us that draws in and emits our breath – both in physical form and as a metaphor for our souls.

Often associated with the element of air and Mercury, Odin, and thus Ansuz, share much in common with the Magician. In both we see bearers of messages and master communicators with immense powers to manifest divine will on Earth. Much like the Hierophant also, is the idea of the transmission of divine wisdom. Both fathers of a faith, the words these characters speak are potent and sacred, uplifting the souls and enriching the knowledge of humankind.

One of the most famous stories of Odin concerns him piercing himself with a spear and hanging from the World Tree, Yggdrasil, for nine days while gazing into the Well of Urd to gain knowledge of the runes. In keeping with this theme of suspension and surrender we find the familiar image of the Hanged Man, and indeed, Ansuz does carry with it the concept that in order to gain divine or universal wisdom, one must be willing to make painful sacrifices.

In yet another sacrifice, Odin gives an eye to the guardian of the well of Mimir to have a draft of its wisdom-imparting mead. This is a particularly interesting metaphor, and one that ties Ansuz further to the Hanged Man, in that Odin sacrifices his eye for better sight, exchanging part of his vision for deeper perception, thereby gaining two perspectives: sight of the mundane world and a cosmic, transcendent vision.


On a more mundane level, Ansuz is primarily a rune signalling cognizance, clarity and communication. Like the Ace of Swords, it represents moments of piercing truth and a precision with words. It’s the clearing away of foggy thoughts and confusion, of divine or inner messages received and understood.

Also present in Ansuz are the waters of divine inspiration seen in the Ace of Cups. This connection derives from a tale where Odin drinks the mead of inspiration from the cauldron of Othroerir – a tale linked to similar spiritual metaphors of transformative elixirs, found in Cerridwen’s Cauldron and Holy Grail mythologies. In this guise, Ansuz represents the feeling of being a conduit for a higher source of inspiration, of channelling divine wisdom and manifesting it in art, poetry, prophetic speech, spells and incantation.

In its most mundane meaning, Ansuz speaks of messages. As seen in the Eight of Wands, these messages will be swift and contain a much-needed piece of information, a missing piece of the puzzle that illuminates the whole and brings resolution. In this idea we can see an echo of Odin’s companions, the two ravens Huginn and Muninn (Thought and Memory) who each day depart at sunrise to fly around Midgard (the human realm) and return at sunset to report back everything they have seen to Odin – forever enriching his knowledge and informing his broader world-view.

ansuz reversed

Merkstave (reversed) or darkened by other runes in the spread, Ansuz is sometimes called Loki’s rune. It speaks of a shadow aspect that the Magician, Odin and Loki share, that of shape shifter and trickster. Gods they are, but their actions and attitudes can be ambivalent, and in this position it is wise to explore the motivations of those around you, paying particular attention to riddles or half-truths. Darker still we see the worst attributes associated with the King of Swords: a disturbing capacity for manipulation and cruelty.


These aspects also tie Ansuz with the Seven of Cups and the Moon, where flights of fancy and illusions turn to delusions. We have no call to higher purpose or clarity, only a directionless yearning for something unseen. The waters of intuition have taken over, drowning our sense of clarity, misleading us into ever-murkier waters. This confusion could come from within or out, and in this dark aspect we can see the implication of gaslighting – of words being twisted to make us doubt our perceptions and sense of reality.

Also shadowed but less sinister, Ansuz can simply mirror the boredom seen in the Four of Cups. It speaks of being uninspired, dull and dissatisfied, those times when we feel deaf to messages from our source (be that an external deity or our own inner wisdom), when all seems meaningless and without higher purpose, the feeling of misplaced faith and being forgotten or cut-off from our source of inspiration.

Ansuz is quite a task to unpack, so I hope the extra cards haven’t made this post too overwhelming! Like all of the runes, there are still more nuances that can be linked to other cards, but I chose what I feel are the primary points of reference that both illuminate the meaning while remaining concise and accessible. I hope it is helpful!


Smith Waite Centennial Tarot, US Games Systems, 2014


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